Tuscaloosa County, Alabama
Improving the lives of children and youth in Tuscaloosa County is a joint effort among many partners, including Tuscaloosa’s Promise, the Children’s Policy Council, Tuscaloosa’s One Place, city and county school districts, government, the University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College, Stillman College, churches and civic groups, Challenge 21, and other community service organizations. Partners work together, both formally and informally, to promote collaboration and coordinate delivery of services. Tuscaloosa County is an outstanding community for young people and families because of the social, medical, recreational and academic resources leveraged through efforts of the partners.
Forerunners is a year-long leadership development experience for 11th graders, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Sessions inform young people about area assets, needs and opportunities, stimulate interest in community issues and encourage team approaches to community problem-solving. The more than 700 participants represent a cross section of the community in terms of gender, race, interests and community groupings. This diversity generates meaningful, personal interaction and mutual learning in the program.
Community partners strive for positive outcomes for youth in many ways. The Community Solution Network is an umbrella organization formed in 2009 to prevent dropping out of school. Business leaders, the faith community, educators, social service agencies, mental health, and Juvenile Court officers make up the Network. While the Community Solution Network is a recent initiative, Adopt-A-School has partnered with local schools for many years. Adopt-A-School partnerships use resources and talents of the business community to enrich schools, bringing about active, personal interaction between students and adult role models. Ninety-three employers adopted 56 schools – 21,000 volunteers have spent 167,000 hours in area schools.
Tuscaloosa County identified transportation issues and parental health education as the biggest challenges to providing A Healthy Start for all local youth. To address these challenges, Kid One Transport provides free transportation to and from doctor or hospital visits for all youth under age 19 and expectant mothers throughout the county. A mobile health clinic travels to various sites county- wide to provide free basic medical and dental services. Through Focus First, students from 22 state colleges provide free vision screenings to low-income toddlers, identifying vision problems that would interfere with learning. Indian Rivers Mental Health Center operates a special summer camp for youth struggling with mental health issues as a place for those children to enjoy themselves in a safe and non-judgmental environment while receiving necessary help through therapy and other interventions.
Achieving positive outcomes for youth depends on positive early childhood experiences. Pre-K education is available in both school systems, serving 440 children. Jump Start serves children with no preschool experience during the summer before kindergarten. Because the county is not presently able to offer Pre-K to all eligible children, they partner with daycare centers and Head Start to coordinate curricula and provide support to prepare those students for school. City and County schools work cooperatively to increase graduation rates. City Schools created a Director of Graduation Success and Dropout Prevention. Graduation teams at elementary and high schools focus on specific social, behavioral, and academic factors.